Naval powers at the start of WW2

Jul 2009
9,844
There was a plan in Britain for a new base for a Far East Fleet to be built. Ceylon was too far back, Hong Kong too far forward. Australia and New Zealand lobbied for Sydney, but in the end, Singapore was chosen.
Note: there was an existing base at Singapore, but this was a brand new base to be built on the North Side of the Island on the Johore Strait.
This was in 1921.

When the Washington Treaty was agreed, there was a provision that no new naval bases be built East of the 110th Meridian, Singapore is at 103. Existing bases could be repaired to their existing standard, but could not be improved on.

So Britain could build a new naval base at Singapore, it was completed in 1938, but how did this affect the USN and the IJN??
The 'fortification clause,' Article XIX of the Washington Treaty, both complicated and benefited the USN in the Pacific. Senior naval officers in the 1920s were aware of the Russian experience of Port Arthur in 1904-05. A naval base too far from its sources of support and replenishment presented serious challenges going forward, but also, the lack of such bases presented its own challenges.

The strategic concerns of the USN in Asia had been 1) the Open Door policy for trade, and 2) defense of the Philippines. The fortification clause affected both due to the distance of Asia from US naval bases on the West coast and in Hawaii. In the Philippines, Cavite near Manila was the only realistic base for the Asiatic Fleet (such as it was) west of 180 degrees longitude. Guam was too small; Subic Bay was too exposed, and by about 1925 it was increasingly the opinion on the General Board of the navy and at the Naval War College was that any of them was indefensible in the event of war with Japan.

The Washington Treaty prohibited improvements in the Philippines, including the interpretation that basing modern army or navy aircraft there was in contravention of the fortification clause. This was the genesis of the 'Mobile Base Project' (MBP). The MBP developed from the 1920s and up until the Japanese withdrawal from the treaty in 1936. By then it was a large part of War Plan Orange and, due to the indefensible situation in the Philippines, had replaced a fortified naval base in the western Pacific as the foundation of strategy for the USN.

The prohibition on basing aircraft west of 180 degrees (as was the interpretation of Article XIX) resulted in plans for larger aircraft carriers - though not enough of them - and of long range flying boats and tenders to get more aircraft into the operations of the fleet. Much of that had to wait until the demise of the Treaty, but plans were made that otherwise may not have been. The extensive fleet train and the huge modular floating dry docks of the MBP were unromantic, but they were essential to the success of War Plan Orange and its successors.

I have not come across comments by USN personnel concerning the fortification of Singapore, but when the RN asked for USN forces to be sent there, it was declined. It may not have been only the dispersal of force, but also the possible fate of the naval base far from support that went into that declination.

In some ways, the fortification clause benefited the US as the Treaty gave up fortification of places that could not be defended for a similar lack of extensive fortification in the Gilberts, the Marshals and the Mariana Islands. Japan did not begin much entrenchment in those islands until 1938-39, and important places such as Truk were not heavily fortified. Truk was mostly a large anchorage and a big supply dump than a fortified base. Not that the advance across the Pacific was without heavy loss and casualties, but Japan did not develop large air and submarine bases in these islands. The General Board worried about the fortification clause up until the Japanese withdrew from the Treaty, but I think the navy did have confidence that War Plan Orange was the correct strategy.
 
Jul 2009
9,844
Post #131 mentions the Asiatic Fleet of the US navy. It also emphasizes the indefensible condition of the Philippines where the fleet was based. Here is a brief recap of the warships of the Asiatic Fleet at the beginning of the war for the US.

-- Cruisers:

USS Houston (CA-30) Flagship, commissioned 1929
USS Marblehead (CL-12) commissioned 1923

-- Destroyers: (These were all Clemson class destroyers commissioned in the early 1920s.)

USS Paul Jones
USS John Edwards
USS Alden
USS Whipple
USS Edsall
USS Stewart
USS Barker
USS Parrott
USS Bulmer
USS John Ford
USS Pope
USS Peary
USS Pillsbury

-- Seaplane tenders:

USS Langley (AV-3) Previously collier USS Jupiter (AC-3) commissioned in 1912, converted to aircraft carrier (CV-1) 1920, reconverted to aircraft tender in 1936-37.
USS Childs
USS Preston (Both Childs and Preston were converted Clemson class destroyers commissioned in 1920.)

-- Twenty-nine submarines, some new, some old "S"-class commissioned in the early 1920s.
-- Three submarine tenders.

-- Several gunboats, mine sweepers and tankers.

-- Aviation assets:

Most naval aircraft were obsolescent except for 28 Consolidated PBY-4 Catalina flying boats.

US Army Air Corps aircraft with much capability were about 35 - B-17 bombers and about 90 - P-40 fighters.

The Asiatic Fleet was more a squadron that a fleet, but in recognition of the strategic significance of US interests in the western Pacific and the Far east, it was commanded since 1916 by a full admiral whose influence rivaled that of the US ambassador to China. Still, as can be seen from the old ships in the Order-of-Battle above, the Asiatic Fleet was somewhat hollow in terms of combat capability and in terms of its defensive potential. That reflected the General Board of the navy's read of the strategic situation in Asia before the war.
 
Jan 2015
3,288
Front Lines of the Pig War
I would not disagree but I have always read the 'blame' for the poor condition of the FAA squarely put onto the RAF but recent reading has 'enlightened' me to the fact that the RN didn't help matters -- for instance the Fairy Fulmer was their new fighter at the start of the war and I have always sighed in pity when I have seen it and thought 'what were the RAF thinking'-- I know realise that it was the Admiralty who added the requirement for a maritime recon role and the addition of a second crew member.
You are mistaken about that, the Recon role or second crewmember were never "added" to the fighter role - the Fulmar was always originally intended as a long range, 2 seat Recon/Observation aircraft - which had some secondary ability as a fighter.
The naval fighter under development pre-war was the Roc.

Note: The original specification for the Fulmar was O.8/38, with "O" indicating Observation aircraft.

Air Ministry specifications for naval fighters used the "N" prefix, so N.8/39, N.5/40 (Firefly) N.11/40 (Firebrand) and N.4/43 (Seafire) were all aircraft designed as first & formost as fighters

We should be aware I agree not to look with hindsight, Carriers were new and planes not much older they were dealing with the thinking of the time against a back drop of economic hardship and also widespread pacifism.
Carriers were not that new, they'd been around for 20 years.
The real issue was that the RN did not expect carriers to operate within range of land-based fighters, and did not foresee a need for naval single seat fighters.
 
Dec 2011
2,887
Late Cretaceous
Captain D' O.H! turned out to be a disaster, probably having a pilots licence was worse, as it prompted him to second guess or try to micromanage the air group commander.
Have read he was rushing back to Scapa to court martial his air commander when Scharnhorst & Gneisenau appeared.

No aircraft on patrol, no one on look out in the crows nest.
 
Jan 2015
3,288
Front Lines of the Pig War
Have read he was rushing back to Scapa to court martial his air commander when Scharnhorst & Gneisenau appeared.

No aircraft on patrol, no one on look out in the crows nest.
Correct.
Clear and calm conditions, with 2 German battlecruisers known to be in the vicinity, and with no heavy escort.

The task force admiral also deserves blame for allowing such a valuable ship to be in that position on a fool's errand
 
Jul 2009
9,844
There have been some posts on the "treaty cruisers" of the period 1922-1939. This ship type underwent something of a change in mission especially for the navies of the US, Great Britain and Japan. The other Treaty powers, Italy being a Mediterranean power, and France, also, but not exclusively, a Mediterranean power, envisioned more limited roles for their cruisers in this time period.

At the conclusion of the First World War, cruisers tended to be either the ageing, armored ships commissioned mostly before 1910, or fast ships, mostly smaller than 6,000 tons, that served as scouts for a battle fleet, or as ships that could independently patrol important sea lanes of commerce and communication. Old, slow "peace cruisers" that played primarily a diplomatic and political role before WW I had mostly faded into auxiliary or administrative duties.

So, what of the "non armored" cruisers of the three largest Treaty powers? Here are some comments:

I. The United States navy was woefully short of such modern cruisers. The USN had commissioned ten armored cruisers from 1905 to 1908 primarily as a presence on the US West coast to counter Japan's possible moves in the pacific. These ships served in the USN, in some cases into the 1920s (USS PIttsburgh not decommissioned until 1931). Other than these large 13-14,000 T cruisers, only three scout cruisers were built around 1908. All these ships had differing propulsion machinery as experimental power plants. By the end of WW I all were obsolete.

From 1918 to 1920, ten Omaha class cruisers were laid down, all commissioning between 1923 and 1925. These ships were 35 kt cruisers intended as scouts for the battle fleet. However, the battle fleet had been redeployed to the West Coast in 1919, and the ships were far too few, and had limited range for the Pacific Ocean. So, by the Washington Treaty of 1922, the USN had eight old armored cruisers (one of the aforementioned ten wrecked in a hurricane; another sunk by a U-boat), three obsolete scouts and ten light cruisers that were inadequate, if not obsolescent, when commissioned.

II. The Royal Navy in 1919 had a large number of cruisers due to its widespread imperial responsibilities. There were still 7 x Arethusa class, 26 x C-class, 8 x Danae class, 1 x Emerald class, two Hawkins class, and numerous older ships and those still building, a total of about 140 of all types and ages. Very many of the old ships were scrapped from 1920 onward, but the RN still had around 65 total at the time of the Washington Treaty.

The numerous C-class cruisers were good ships, many serving into WW II. These ships were used less as destroyer flotilla flagships than other navies' light cruisers. Many served on foreign stations.

III. The Imperial Japanese Navy built two 3,200 T cruisers (4 x 4 - 5.5" guns) patterned on the British C-class in 1918-19. These were intended to function as flagships/leaders for destroyer flotillas. From experience with these two a series of classes of "5,000 T" cruisers was developed, 14 ships in all from 5,100 T to 5,800 T (all with 7 x 7 - 5.5" guns). These ships, built 1919-1923, were initially intended as fast scouts for the fleet, but with the Washington Treaty, three more were cancelled, the remaining ships' function as scouts inherited by the new 8" gun cruisers. The light cruisers then served mostly as flagships for destroyer and submarine squadrons.

The "Battleship Holiday" emerging from the Washington Treaty left the signatories with primarily a 10,000 ton limitation on new major warship size, aside from aircraft carriers. Any larger gun armed warship was deemed a capital ship. What came from this restriction was a a bigger cruiser armed with guns limited to 8" by the Treaty. Although the five Treaty powers built these larger 8" gun ships, mostly from the mid '20s to the mid '30s , the light cruiser became once again a factor in the Treaty navies in the mid to late 1930s. A subsequent post will discuss what purpose these newer light cruisers served in the fleets.
 
May 2011
13,911
Navan, Ireland
You are mistaken about that, the Recon role or second crewmember were never "added" to the fighter role - the Fulmar was always originally intended as a long range, 2 seat Recon/Observation aircraft - which had some secondary ability as a fighter.
The naval fighter under development pre-war was the Roc.

Note: The original specification for the Fulmar was O.8/38, with "O" indicating Observation aircraft.

Air Ministry specifications for naval fighters used the "N" prefix, so N.8/39, N.5/40 (Firefly) N.11/40 (Firebrand) and N.4/43 (Seafire) were all aircraft designed as first & formost as fighters.
Does it really matter when the 'O' was added the point remains that the RN as mush as the RAF were responsible for the mess the FAA was in because they really couldn't decide what they wanted a plane to do.



Carriers were not that new, they'd been around for 20 years.
The real issue was that the RN did not expect carriers to operate within range of land-based fighters, and did not foresee a need for naval single seat fighters.
So Carriers weren't going to be used in the North Sea, Channel , Bay of Biscay, Mediterranean -- just in the deep oceans? muddled thinking.

And sorry yes new-- 20 years was nothing -- planes had barely existed in 1914 by 1918 you have air forces, even 'carriers' how these will work and what will happen was all new.
 
Jul 2009
9,844
OOOOOPS!!!! In post #37 I screwed up the mountings and number of guns for the Japanese light cruisers.

The Tenryu class had four 5.5" guns (4 x 1). The other IJN light cruisers classes had seven 5.5" (7 x 1)

As additional info, the two Tenryu class each had six torpedo tubes (2 x 3) and the others had eight T.T., (4 x 2).
 

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